Bloomington Alternative asks in a recent edition why the brutal hate crime killing of Aaron Hall has garnered so little media attention outside of Crothersville in Jackson County. Daily Kos weighs in with its own story as well today. Steven Higgs of Bloomington Alternative writes:
Nineteen-year-old Garrett Gray, in stripes behind, and 18-year-old Coleman King, center, told police they brutally beat and killed a man after he suggested a homosexual act with King. But some say they made up the story as a way to get
sympathy for their case.
The simple facts in Shorty Hall's murder shout major media. Brian Williams or Katie Couric, maybe. Bill Moyers, someday. Indianapolis Star, unquestionably.
The 1998 hate-crime murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming is commonly invoked in comparison.
Thirty-five-year-old, 5-foot-4, 100-pound Aaron Hall was brutally beaten on April 12 for hours by two teens who have described the murder in chilling detail to police. Each says Hall precipitated the violence by making a homosexual suggestion.
The beatings included repeated pummelings with fists and boots and dragging Hall down a wooden staircase by his feet as "his head bounced down all of the steps," in one of the accused's words. He died naked and alone, in a field, where he had crawled after his killers dumped his body in a roadside ditch.
Police found Hall's body 10 days after his death wrapped in a tarp in the garage of Jackson County Deputy Coroner Terry Gray, whose son is one of the accused.
According to the local paper, The Crothersville Times, a witness said 19-year-old Garrett Gray, upon learning that Hall was dead, "began vomiting and making statements of what his dad would say when he found out about this incident."
The fact that this tale has received almost no media attention outside Jackson County, Monroe's far southeast-corner neighbor, is but one of its bizarre twists.
Another is the suggestion that Hall made no sexual advance on 18-year-old Coleman King, the other accused, that he and Gray made up the story as an excuse for murder.
There's a legal theory for their argument. It's called the "gay panic defense," and it suggests that temporary insanity from exposure to homosexuality is a defense against murder. Matthew Shepard's killers tried to use it.
Higgs' story takes note of the fact that the Indianapolis Star has completely ignored Hall's killing and how that absence of coverage has been criticized by fellow blogger Ruth Holladay and me. He writes:
The [Katie] Collman case was big news. Indianapolis Star-columnist-turned-Internet-blogger Ruth Holliday noted on May 8 that it "had a lot of twists and turns." A search of the Star Web site turns up more than a dozen stories.
Yet the Star has left the Hall murder to the Jackson County media, the never-to-be-trusted Indianapolis and Louisville television stations and bloggers like Advance Indiana's Gary Welsh, who has covered the story in depth and, along with Holliday, has questioned the lack of major media attention.
A search of the Star Web site for Aaron Hall returned zero stories.
On May 3, Welsh, who is an advocate for hate crimes legislation in Indiana, wrote a column titled "Why Won't the Star Cover The Hate Crime Killing of Aaron Hall?" He noted that the paper "has been silent" about the Hall case but that editorial writer RiShawn Biddle argued in his May 1 Star blog that a hate crimes law would not have prevented Hall's murder.
In his blog, Biddle argued that the "murkiness of the case shows that it may not even have been considered a hate crime."
Biddle's assessment is shared by others, especially in Jackson County. Many of them see it as bunch of kids drinking and going crazy.
An anonymous contributor wrote in Welsh's blog: "No one in the News knows what the hell they're talking about. I know what went on i really do. It wasn't a hate crime. Garrett hit him because he said F#%% you and your mom and his mom was dead. Anyone that knows him knows that."
One local woman, who also says the murder was not a hate crime, told the Alternative that Gray's mother has been dead for years.
On April 29, Welsh reported that Crothersville resident Leslie Horton told him that rumors in town are that "Aaron was gay and had AIDS" to shift the blame away from them and onto Hall, thereby "stigmatizing him in the hope of getting off easy."
"People are losing sight that this man was not gay in the slightest," Horton told Welsh. "It was a ploy to make their crime seem justifiable since it seems to be condoned by some evil people in this world."
Higgs then notes the role the so-called gay panic defense has played in other cases, including Matthew Shepard's killers case:
The gay panic defense led to an acquittal in a murder case in West Virginia, according to a story in a 1993 Barnes & Noble book Some Days Nothing Goes Right.
Numerous Internet sources, including Wikipedia and Answers.com, report the same passage. "The Sun-Times Wire reported in Harrisville, West Virginia, USA, that one Dean Ludwig Bethoven, aged thirty, accepted a ride home from a bar by funeral director Dent Pickman, and fell asleep in his car.
"When he woke up later at Pickman's house, he found his body covered with 'ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles - things out of the refrigerator,' and Dent Pickman licking mayonnaise off his naked body. 'I went crazy,' said Bethoven, who stabbed Pickman to death with a kitchen knife. The jury acquitted him of murder."
One of the highest-profile gay panic defense cases was a 1995 murder in which a man killed a friend after learning on the The Jenny Jones Show that the friend was sexually attracted to him. Jonathan Schmitz confessed but said he was angered and humiliated by his friend's advances. He was convicted of second-degree murder and received a 25-to-50 year prison sentence.
The judge in the Shepard case threw out the killers' use of gay panic. He ruled it was "either a temporary insanity defense or a diminished capacity defense, such as irresistible impulse, which are not allowed in Wyoming ..."
Shepard's killers later recanted their story on national television, characterizing the murder as a robbery attempt gone awry under the influence of drugs.
Each received two consecutive life sentences.
The Matthew Shepard comparison is unmistakable as Higgs points out in his article. While there was no question Shepard was gay unlike in Hall's case, the story told by Shepard's accusers varied considerably. They only turned away from their gay panic defense after it was rejected by the court. What is clear in both cases, however, is that the accused killers seemed to think it somehow explains otherwise inexcusable acts of violence against a fellow man if the victim is thought to be gay.
Daily Kos also writes today:
Two young men in Jackson County Indiana said they were so freaked out when 'propositioned' by Aaron Hall on April 12th, that they proceeded to beat the 100 pound, 5'4 man for hours, using their fists, boots, dragging him down a staircase while his head slammed into each step, and then throwing him in a ditch and leaving. Aaron managed to crawl out of the ditch and out into a nearby field, where he died, alone and naked.Sound familiar? A bit like the story of Matthew Shephard? Then why no coverage outside of Jackson County, Indiana?Hat tip to Blue Indiana for catching Higgs' story and Daily Kos' post.
Is the lack of coverage due, perhaps, to allegations that Hall is gay? Or that no one is sure that these allegations are even true?
You see, the story is even stranger than it appears. Some contend that the young men made up the story about having been propositioned so as to use the 'gay panic defense,' in hopes of getting a more lenient sentence. Apparently the thinking was that exposure to homosexuality is so frightening that well... heck, anyone would go crazy and beat the hell out of a guy for hours, then toss him in a ditch to die.
Ah, the joys of living in Klan country.
A number of Hoosier bloggers have wondered at the lack of local coverage. In the interest of promoting this case, I thought I'd bring it out here for your perusal. This is a horrific crime, and while I don't promote the kind of overdone sensationalism (carried on for weeks at a time) evidenced on CNN and Fox News, this man's death should draw some notice. It should serve as a warning, at the very least. Whether Hall was or wasn't gay isn't the point. The fact that the teenagers used this as their
defense... speaks volumes.
In a very sad effort in futility, Bil Browning of Bilerico has launched a nationwide blogging effort to try to discredit the Aaron Hall story as a hate crime after national blogs began picking up on AI's earlier posts, driving traffic to this site to new record levels. I don't quite understand it, but it is certainly working in gaining even more national attention for the story, and as you can see by the comments on Towleroad, commenters are in disbelief with Browning's contention that it wasn't a hate crime. An earlier post at Daily Kos has generated at least 400 comments and thousands of referring hits to this site. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those comments share my sentiments about this hate crime killing.